Simon Okelo: From The Slums Of Kisumu To Building African Community In The US

Simon Okelo is the founder and chief executive officer of One Vibe Africa and the creator of the Madaraka Festival. Through his initiatives, he aims to foster unity, promote African culture, and provide a platform for upcoming musicians. 

Here is his journey as told by WoK.

From the Slums to Organizing US Concerts

He grew up in the slums of Manyatta in Kisumu, Kenya. Despite the challenging circumstances, he nurtured a passion for community service and mentoring others.

Working in various non-governmental organizations, he directed humanitarian projects in countries like Malawi, Ghana, Liberia, and South Sudan. 

In 2009, Simon visited the United States for a fundraising tour and eventually moved there in 2010. His commitment to serving his community continued through his media entity, One Vibe, which promotes alternatives to violence for youth through art and music programs.

The Birth of the Madaraka Festival

Simon Okelo founded the Madaraka Festival, initially a Seattle-based event that started in 2014. The festival gained momentum and expanded its reach, attracting over 4,500 attendees when it was held in Kisumu, Kenya, in 2019. 

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival reached millions of people through online platforms, showcasing artists from around the world.

The Madaraka Festival has become one of the most consistent African live music festivals globally, promoting cultural exchange, unity, and community building.

Promoting African Artists and Upcoming Musicians

One of the key objectives of the Madaraka Festival is to provide a platform for both established and upcoming African musicians.

From its inception, the festival has welcomed artists from diverse backgrounds, showcasing the richness and diversity of African music. Emerging talents are given the opportunity to perform alongside Grammy-winning artists, fostering their growth and exposing them to larger audiences. 

The festival has consistently championed the inclusion of up-and-coming artists, making it a unique and impactful platform for the African music industry.

Challenges and Future Plans

Organizing a multi-city show like the Madaraka Festival presents logistical, emotional, and financial challenges. Coordinating shows in different cities on different dates requires meticulous planning and execution. Simon acknowledges the sacrifices and commitments required to make the festival a success. 

Despite the challenges, he remains inspired by the potential impact of the festival on job creation and industry opportunities. Simon envisions expanding the festival to more American cities and even venturing into the Canadian and Mexican markets.

The ultimate goal is to showcase African music during the North American Football World Cup in 2026.


Simon encourages Africans in the diaspora to come together, celebrate their culture, and contribute to the building of a strong and united African community abroad. He emphasizes the importance of community support, resilience, and the belief that everyone is capable of achieving their goals, regardless of their educational background.

His efforts in building an African community in the US through music are commendable. Through the Madaraka Festival and his work with One Vibe Africa, he is creating platforms for African artists, promoting cultural exchange, and nurturing the talent of emerging musicians.